Moving to Dubai can be both exciting and stressful. The more you prepare the easier the transition will be. If you are moving to Dubai with children, this preparation is even more essential.
Getting ready to Move
I have moved country three times, the first time with three small children, so I have lived through most of the highs and lows.
Leave Your Particulars in Good Order
What does this mean? It means different things in different countries. However, if you are leaving a family home vacant, check that you have the correct insurance. If it is to be tenanted, check that you have followed procedures for your country and adjusted the insurance accordingly.
It may be in your interests to declare yourself non-resident for tax purposes, but get advice first. Such a declaration may impact any medical or pension arrangements currently in place.
Setting up internet banking, if you are leaving a bank account active and have property to maintain, is useful.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in Dubai can be high due to the cost of housing and private schooling. So, although it is a tax free environment, make sure you have the salary to cover your costs. It is possible to cut costs and economize in your home country where you know the system. However, living in a new country on an inadequate salary will be a misery, and this would be particularly so in Dubai where there is so much to enjoy, if you have the money, and so few ways to reduce costs. You cannot decide to walk places, ride a bike to work to save transport because of the heat at least six months of the year, nor can you send the children to a government school. Some costs just cannot be avoided.
Read more in our Cost of Living in Dubai article and the sites recommended below.
Prepare to Experience Culture Shock
A new country even when, like Dubai, the language of daily communication is English will have some surprises for you. You will experience culture shock to some extent. Culture shock is that feeling that things are WRONG. You can expect to experience culture shock in stages: after three days, three weeks, three months and three years. Now this is not going to happen exactly like this, but people tend to marvel at how different everything is for a few days and then get an attack of the blues. After three weeks, you will have faced some hurdles and you will have begun to realize that you are here for the long haul. That is when the first serious attack of culture shock generally hits. Overcoming culture shock is learning to see that things are DIFFERENT rather than WRONG.
Reduce Culture Shock through Knowledge
The more you know, the better you can anticipate and prepare for the little niggles that can precipitate a bout of culture shock.
Dubai is a Muslim country. There are mosques dotted all over the city, and they all have minarets from which the call to pray can be heard five times a day. Because the call is amplified, it can be surprisingly loud especially in the early morning. In the summer, as the pray call begins before dawn, it can be very early. Most westerners get used to the call and are able to sleep through it, but it takes time for light sleepers. Eventually, it becomes part of the life in Dubai.
Almost from the moment you arrive in Dubai, you will see men immaculately dressed in white dishdasha or khandoura (rather like a floor length shirt) and women in abaya and hajab (black gown and head scarf). This is national dress. There are small variations within the GCC, but it is all variations on a theme. Emiratis are very proud to wear their national dress. The women may have expensive designer outfits on under their black gowns, but they present a perfectly groomed and modest appearance to the world. Very few women wear the niqab (full face covering), but it is worn by the more conservative Muslims.
Along with traditional Arab clothing you will see various different traditional Indian and Pakistani outfits, men wearing identifiably Afghani dress and very occasionally, different types of African dress. This is all part of the richness of living in a multi-cultural country. Unfortunately, it has become commonplace for me. I would love to experience it all again as a newcomer will, with surprise and wonder.
Apart from visual differences, there is the weather. Get used to being hot all the time in the summer. Of course air-conditioning takes the sting out of the summer, but it is lurking outside heating up your car even when parked in an underground car park. The upside is that the winter is like a six month long summer in most other countries. So do not despair.
Bureaucracy is a beast in all countries and Dubai is no different, but it is trying harder to minimize the issue. Nevertheless, get used to needing copies of a few standard items to do or apply for almost anything. Almost nothing can be done in Dubai without a swatch of photos – get 24 passport photos before you leave home and you will always have plenty; of course, if you have a family, they will need at least 12 photos each, too. The other top requirements are a photocopy of your passport, your residence visa (once you have one), your salary certificate, and your Emirates ID card (once you have that). Clearly, getting your residence visa and then your ID card are the first hurdles and cannot be done without the help of your employer.
While it is possible for a couple to both have work visas if both are working, the way it usually works is that one has the residence visa and the other has a spousal visa. It is possible for someone on a spousal visa to work, but that person will need a letter of no objection from the resident.
Find the fun in the unexpected and avoid culture shock.
Bringing pets to another country is never easy. It may be wiser to get yourself installed before you bring the pets. This is because, to bring a pet into the country one of the things you need is to prove that you have a residence visa or have a letter from your employer stating that the application is in process.
You will also need a permit to import your pet. This can be complicated but there is help available. Dubai Kennels and Cattery specialize in pet imports.
Cats and dogs in Dubai have to be registered and micro-chipped. Your pets will need to be in good health and have up-to-date inoculation certificates.
You might like to consider that there are plenty of cats and dogs in the UAE looking for good homes. If you would like to get a pet on arrival, contact the local agencies.
It is possible to come to the UAE, make contact with prospective employers, secure a job, fly home and sort things out only to return in a few weeks or months. Some people come to specific conferences and engage in this process. For example, the annual TESOL Arabia Conference is a great place for teachers to make contact with future employers. The hotel industry regularly holds conferences where networking opportunities are vast.
Also, there are employment agencies.
As mentioned above, if you already have a job offer, your employer will take most of the strain when it comes to getting you a residence visa. It is a complicated process. You biggest task will be making sure you have the original documents that your employer requires – birth certificates for all, marriage license, divorce license if applicable, and qualification certificates. If you have had a tertiary education, your employer may require you to get your university to send them a transcript of your degrees. This needs to come directly from the university because some people have presented themselves for employment on the basis of bogus qualifications.
Do make sure you ask whether or not your documents have to be attested in your home country or anywhere else. The rules for this seem to be flexible. But getting documents attested once you are in the UAE can be expensive if courier charges are added to the cost of having some dignitary stamp something. Wielding a stamp in an official capacity, especially if attached to an embassy, is a lucrative business.
NOW YOU ARE HERE
You will be issued with a visa at the border, or you will have arranged visas to get into the UAE, so here you are. What comes next?
More Residence Visa Information
Part of getting a residence or spousal visa is the medical examination. Do not panic, you do not have to run on a treadmill or anything like that. But you and your spouse will have to have a blood test – this is to check for diseases such as hepatitis and AIDS. One thing to be aware of is that these blood tests are batch tested. This means that if any of the blood in a particular batch is contaminated, everyone in that batch will be called back for retesting. So a recall may not mean what it suggests.
In addition to blood test, sometimes people are required to have chest X-rays or urine tests. Clearly, the chest X-ray is looking for TB. If you are found to have any of the major transmittable diseases, you will be required to leave the country.
Schools in Dubai
Private schooling is the only option you have in the UAE and it can be expensive. At time of writing the most expensive was GEMS Academy at AED 53-92K. This website gives a lot of basic information on schooling.
Some schools stress that they follow the curriculum of a particular country such as the USA or Britain. Some offer GCSEs and some stress International Baccalaureate (IB). The best thing to do is to make a shortlist then set about visiting the places that look most suitable. Try to talk to other people with similar aged children as they will be a ready source of information.
This link relates schools by area.
Location and type of accommodation make a huge difference to price in the UAE.
It is possible but somewhat frowned upon to share housing in Dubai especially if there are males and females sharing a house. Flats of all sizes and in all price ranges are available. And the same can be said of villas.
Some advice should be available through your employer. Some employers even provide the housing. While this is good when you first arrive, once you know the ropes, you may regret having had your home chosen by someone else.
For more detailed advice see our article on House Hunting in Dubai.
Applying for a Telephone
Telephone charges are very low in the UAE. Everyone has a mobile phone and most companies prefer to contact you by mobile. So, one of the first things you need to do is to get a SIM card.
There are two providers – Etisalat and Du.
Etisalat has the Ahlan package for visitors at a minimal cost of AED60.
In 2012 a new regulation was introduced making it mandatory for all SIM card holders in the UAE to re-register their cards and show identification documents. The idea was that once the registration period was over, all non-registered SIM cards would be deactivated. So part of getting a reliable mobile phone now is registering it to your name. This can be done quickly and efficiently at any Etisalat or Du outlet, they are in most shopping malls, with your passport and Emirates ID card.
Opening a Bank Account and Applying for a Credit Card
To open a bank account you need the usual documentation – passport copy, ID card copy, salary certificate and a photo, though this latter requirement may be wavered.
Once you have a bank account, it should be possible to apply for a credit card. However, some banks will not issue a credit card until you have been in your job for six months. This is because there is a six month probation period with most jobs and they do not want to risk giving a credit card to someone who may abscond or lose their job.
When you get your credit card, your credit limit will be linked to your salary scale and is likely to escalate quickly each year. Interest rates are high as with all credit cards, so the best option is to pay the card off in full each year. Some banks offer this as an automatic option for you when you sign up. Most banks send you a text message every time you withdraw money at an ATM or bank and when you use your credit card. This is very reassuring.
Alcohol in Dubai
Alcohol is tolerated in Dubai, but to buy or consume alcohol you are meant to have a license. One of the alcohol outlets in Dubai has the necessary forms and offers an easy to follow guide on how to go about the process. You will need the usual documents and photos to complete the process plus a copy of your tenancy agreement.
Although, with a license, you can buy and consume alcohol, do keep in mind that it is only tolerated. There are plenty of bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, but public drunkenness is not acceptable and can get you into trouble.
There is a zero tolerance policy in the UAE, so consuming alcohol and driving is against the law.
Dubai is a great place. You may have come here to work, but take time to enjoy it as well.